The rough-edged American indie group the Neighbourhood returns to the scene with their sophomore effort Wiped Out. The 11-track compilation isn’t much different from the genre-bouncing sound which catapulted the band past selective hipster popularity and into the public eye back in 2013, but a clever hint of vulnerability saves the finished product from falling by the wayside. Lead man Jesse Rutherford’s vocals are quick-paced and even surprising at times, with a solid rap foundation that draws pop and rock fans alike out of their comfort zones and into a pleasant haze.
“A Moment of Silence” kicks the album off on a note of self-indulgence with 30 seconds of complete silence. It’s a cheap trick. It acts as more of a disservice to the full creation than an elevation and is indicative of the group’s most pervasive struggle—burying the lede. The moments of subtle honesty, stripped of elaborate execution and buried in production, are the seemingly unintended high points, though they at times seem few and far between.
“R.I.P. 2 My Youth”—much later in the album—is just such a moment, with an organized smash of a beat and smooth vocals slipping through each verse with enough jive to nearly eclipse the actual words. It’s the toned down organ opening, though, that drives the song’s strength, an unexpected vulnerability in mortality best witnessed in lines like, “I’d like to be proud, but somehow I’m ashamed / Sweet little baby in a world full of pain.” Along the same lines, “Cry Baby” makes the small but significant shift from the land of introspective neuroticism into a more even-keeled brand of self-awareness, from the pathetic to the sympathetic.
Other efforts, though, simply get lost in layering, with “Greeting from Califournia,” “The Beach,” and “Wiped Out!” fusing all too easily into the indistinguishable mix of catchy pop-synth tunes with a distinguished, central ache. “Baby Came Home 2” is dreamy and guitar led, but entirely burdened by the aimlessly attached “Valentine” instrumental section.
Within this whiplash of the meticulously fine-tuned and overdone, a couple tracks reach for emotional connection, but instead fall towards the simply alarming. The combination of sultry and disconcerting is nothing new for the group, but a few numbers kick into new levels of discomfort. “Prey” leans on a bouncing, spacey beat (courtesy of drummer Brandon Fried) through verse after verse of laid-back paranoia, but it’s “Daddy Issues” which truly shoves together the odd and the lustful. With a slick echo effect and the lyrics’ slow cyclical descent into the internal trauma of the narrator, the song is more of an indulgent diary session than the insightful piece it wants listeners to believe it is. The strange circles Rutherford talks around his “little girl” are equal parts pitiable and disturbing, all over a strong backtrack that makes the eerie lines a little too easy to nod along to.
On the surface level, some tracks stand alone successfully. “Ferrari” is revved up, mechanical, and bossy. On an album that trudges towards the overexposed, a track that so wholeheartedly embodies the group’s unique blend of off-the-cuff distance and want is nearly as refreshing as the moments of tenderness. “Single” pairs the same element of flirting with the disreputable against a reprisal of the thankfully toned-down psychological play from “Daddy Issues.”
Amidst all the characteristic foggy beats and big talk that stylistically hide true victimization, what sticks are the lightest touches. There’s an underbelly to the band’s chaotic layering. It’s these touches that hints The Neighborhood is trying to balance the genuine and the apathetic down to a science. The goal is not quite realized here, with the effect bouncing instead from the over dramatized to the disconnected, but there are glimmers of intent worth sticking around for until next time.
Featured Image By Columbia Records